How will the Titans invest over $65M in cap space?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are hoping their path back to the playoffs started with the hiring of coach Brian Callahan last month.

Callahan and general manager Ran Carthon are filling out the staff as the Titans begin to turn their attention to addressing a roster that needs to be upgraded at a variety of positions.

Carthon said last season was a learning experience. As a first-year general manager, he had to fill four starting offensive line spots and add another playmaker on offense while keeping an eye on possible future replacements for quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry.

Henry is set to hit free agency in March when the new league year begins. It's clear he can still play at a high level, as he was the league's second-leading rusher with 1,167 yards. Losing Henry would just add to the laundry list of areas to focus on, but the Titans have the cap space to try to fill some of those holes.

The salary cap hasn't been officially announced for the 2024 season, but the Titans are projected to have $65.52 million in cap space, according to Roster Management System, and they also have seven picks in the draft -- starting with No. 7 overall. Tennessee's 22 pending free agents ties them for the sixth most, according to Roster Management System.

"When you look at the draft, that's wholesale," Titans president of football operations Chad Brinker said via the Official Titans Podcast. "It's cheap, but there's a potential to hit big in that area. It's about adding impact players whether it's through free agency or the draft. When it comes to free agency you have to pay a premium for that. A lot of times these teams don't let those guys go, so we have to be smart about it."

Here's a look at two of the most pressing needs for the Titans this offseason:

Offensive line

The Titans gave up 64 sacks last season, tied for the third most in the NFL. Not all of the sacks were the fault of the offensive line, but a good portion of them were.

Injuries and inconsistency kept the Titans from being able to field a steady line that could develop the necessary cohesiveness to give plays time to develop.

"I know that's an area where we didn't play as well," Carthon said in January. "One thing I will say about that offensive line position, offensive line position isn't always about the individual. It's about the sum of the parts."

Free agent lineman Andre Dillard was brought in to start at left tackle, but Dillard's struggles put Tennessee in a predicament. The Titans eventually went with 2023 sixth-round pick Jaelyn Duncan instead. Duncan's 16 sacks allowed last season were the third most among all offensive linemen. Dillard's 13 allowed left him tied with Titans left guard Peter Skoronski, the team's 2023 first-round pick, for the sixth most.

Simply put, the Titans' upgrades start at left tackle. Getting more stout at center and landing a right tackle are two other improvements to target.

ESPN's Matt Bowen has nine offensive linemen ranked in his top 50 free agent list. Tennessee would be wise to dip into the free agency pool and add a veteran to its line. That's a move that should be made in addition to possibly using a top pick on one of the talented offensive linemen in this year's draft class.

There are 12 offensive linemen in ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid's top 50 prospects. Whatever additions the Titans make up front will be enhanced by Callahan's father, Bill -- their new offensive line coach who is considered one of the best in the game.

Wide receiver

Receiver continues to be an area for improvement in Nashville. Carthon took a step in the right direction by signing DeAndre Hopkins to a two-year deal last season. Hopkins' 1,057 yards gave the Titans their first 1,000-yard receiver since A.J. Brown's 1,075-yard season in 2020, but Hopkins was the only bright spot in the Titans' receiver group.

Treylon Burks, the team's 2022 first-round pick, showed promise during training camp, but injuries derailed his development. Veteran wideouts Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chris Moore had some impactful moments but are pending free agents.

With the Titans selecting at No. 7 in April's draft, there will be some viable options (Reid has three wide receivers in his top 10). There's a good chance the Titans will choose between a top prospect at receiver and offensive line -- leaving Callahan to face a similar situation that he had in 2021, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals had the No. 5 pick with needs at those two positions. Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and offensive lineman Penei Sewell were the top prospects at their respective positions. Cincinnati elected to pick Chase and pair him with Joe Burrow, his quarterback at LSU. Chase was a big reason Cincinnati made it all the way to the Super Bowl before falling short that season.

"When it came down to having to win the game, we had players that were able to win one-on-one matchups," Callahan said on 102.5 The Game. "When push comes to shove, do you want to have someone that can go score touchdowns and go win versus tight coverage? In that debate, Penei was fantastic. I landed on the Ja'Marr Chase side because I saw what he can do for our offense."

Callahan stressed that every situation is different. Cincinnati had the luxury of seeing Chase and Burrow work their magic en route to a national championship in college.

However, the emphasis on the ability to be a playmaker in the passing game remains the same.

"There's a philosophy where I tend to lean towards the guys that can score touchdowns," Callahan said. "If you're playing the quarterback position well, you can negate some of the issues in pass protection if you're playing on time and throwing the ball accurately."

Cincinnati has two big free agents at the receiver position, as well, in Tee Higgins (Bowen's No. 1 free agent receiver) and Tyler Boyd. Callahan could push to reunite with one (or even both) of them in Nashville. Even if the Titans don't land either, expect them to add one or two veteran receivers in free agency.